Race, build, and careen off of dozens of high-speed tracks.
PC Release: April 16, 2008
By Ian Coppock
What better follow-up is there to an experimental art game than pure pedal to the metal? No, this is not an intro to a fast-paced shooter, but rather the first driving game reviewed on this page in years. In fact, racing and autosport games are going to start making regular appearances in my rotation of reviews. Never fear; all those shooter and horror and adventure and puzzle games reviewed here for years are here to stay, but there’s nothing wrong with venturing into the world of racing for variety. That, or making this decision after getting sucked into The Grand Tour.
Trackmania is a lightning-quick series of racing games that are quite beloved in that genre. The very first game was released in 2003, with subsequent versions adding more tracks and better graphics. Trackmania United Forever Star Edition is both a compilation of several Trackmania games into one title… and a serious mouthful. Nadeo, the French studio behind Trackmania, reasoned that it would be easier to port all of their Trackmania modes and games onto a single, easy-to-access platform, an uncommon move for developers in the mid-2000’s.
Trackmania starts things off by asking players to create an account. Yep. A nearly 10-year-old game still has new players creating an account. It’s not that much of a hassle, but it seems silly to keep doing that after all this time, rather than rely on Steam for connectivity. Indeed, this game used to be quite DRM-heavy, but don’t worry; save for this account creation business, it’s long gone. This ain’t no Uplay, thank God.
Then again, perhaps being asked to create an account ain’t all that bad when confronted with all the goodies Trackmania has to share. This edition is absolutely loaded with tracks, cars, and game modes. Nadeo took each set of environments from each of the original Trackmania games to provide dozens of racing environments in one easy-to-use menu. The game’s tracks are broken into various modes, from conventional racing to platforming and even puzzle racing (more on that in a moment).
Like most racing games, and unlike most everything reviewed here recently, Trackmania has an outstanding options menu. There are dozens of options for resolution, texture quality, lighting effects, draw distance, water, shadows, the list goes on and on. This is the kind of menu PC gamers like to see, because it allows for maximum control over the core gaming experience. Plus, with many PCs being different, players need to have that freedom to tweak and adjust. Players are able to do all that and then some with Trackmania‘s stellar menu.
Coming hot on the heels of Trackmania‘s options menu is the game’s flawless performance on PC. To be fair, the game is older, and can probably run on a potato, but it won’t lag or crash during even the most demanding races. Good performance is especially important for a racing game, where a split-second of lag can spell disaster for even the most inveterate player. Trackmania also seems to be free of the wacky (and funny) physics bugs that are the stuff of racing game legends.
Of course, it’s also important for the game to look nice, and this is where Trackmania begins to spin out a bit. With respect to its age, Trackmania‘s textures look pretty awful. The paint and logos on the sides of race cars are barely discernible blotches of color, and even turning the texture quality up all the way does little to solve that problem. It’s not as much of a joy, then, that Trackmania runs so well. Not if the racing numbers on the side of the car look less like numerals and more like the yin and yang symbol.
Even though Trackmania looks dated, the game is still fun to play. The meat of the experience is to be found in the game’s myriad of modes. Players looking for a conventional racing experience can tear it up in dozens of different circuits. Alternatively, it’s also possible to race on tracks built for stunts, speed, pretty much anything one can do with a car. Believe it or not, Trackmania still has a somewhat active player base, so online matches are not given up for dead with this title. Playing against an AI or time ghost is also an option.
Curiously, Trackmania includes a mode called “puzzle” where players have to construct a track of any design between two end points and then race it. This is mode not often seen in racing games, even almost a decade later, and it’s a lot of fun to build a zany track and see if it’s possible to run it. Between all of Trackmania‘s various modes, the game easily boasts dozens of tracks to try out. Racing fans won’t want for more ways to go fast in Trackmania.
As players might expect, Trackmania also includes a level editor. Indeed, building one’s own track is what the entire game is built around. With every circuit they complete, players are given tokens with which to buy assets for track building. These include lengths of road but also loop-de-loops and other, more exotic set pieces. Creating a track is easy thanks to the game’s intuitive creation menus, and players can quickly share their tracks with the world so that other Trackmania gamers can enjoy them. Perhaps there’s a point to having a Trackmania account after all.
The default tracks in Trackmania are built for a single lap… for better and for worse. The better is that it makes for a breakneck racing experience in which glory can be gained or lost in, say, 20 seconds. The worse is that it’s only 20 seconds of play time before the race is over. Sure, longer, player-crated tracks are floating around out there on the Internet, but Trackmania‘s default tracks are quite short. Even a single lap of most other racing games’ circuits can last much longer than a one-shot track in Trackmania. Doesn’t necessarily make it less fun, but endurance racers might find this setup off-putting.
Trackmania‘s cars can handle all of these tracks quite well. Even though different classes of vehicle feel distinct, each one is competently done, with smooth acceleration, turning, and brakes. Combine this with Trackmania‘s aforementioned lack of lag, and it makes for a fast-paced racing experience. It’s getting more and more difficult to find games whose cars don’t handle like slippery tubs these days, so anyone else weary of that issue will enjoy Trackmania.
The other major question in regards to cars: can they be customized? Yep. Trackmania allows players to give each class of car a makeover. The only issue is that each coat of paint is pre-set, with very little elbow room for creating a custom look. Players who want to spend hours adding a polygon-by-polygon paint job to their vehicle are going to hang their heads, especially since the game’s default textures look pretty terrible, but life goes on. Perhaps the cars’ textures look so bad because the paint wasn’t given the chance to dry.
So, what have we learned? What does Trackmania offer that dozens if not hundreds of subsequent racing games don’t? Well, for a start, the aforementioned variety of modes is quite impressive. This game packs an endless assortment of tracks (and consequently, hundreds of hours of entertainment) into a single, easy-to-use package. It’s similarly easy to build one’s own race track and share it with the world, but only after earning enough tokens from blazing through the courses.
Additionally, the game runs well. No physics bugs, no lag, just pure racing. It features an options menu that puts modern video games to shame, with toggles for just about every facet of visual fidelity known to man. It is unfortunate, though, that that same visual fidelity cannot be said of the vehicles’ textures. The lighting could also be better, to be honest, but it helps Trackmania‘s case that most players will be focused on the road instead of the car.
In closing, Trackmania is a tidy piece of racing game history and a gem that autosport fans would be remiss to not have in their libraries. Pick it up on a sale or once other, more contemporary titles have exhausted themselves. As previously mentioned, the other genres of games that have been reviewed here for years are going nowhere, but hopefully this review serves as an ample ignition for the racing category. Here’s to many laps on the road ahead!
You can buy Trackmania United Forever Star Edition here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.